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Michael Tippett, A Child of Our Time (1939-41), Richard Hickox, London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
In the early years of World War II, he composed what is probably his most famous work, the oratorio A Child of Our Time, with deeply personal and hopelessly, yet inspiringly, idealistic texts by the composer himself (at Eliot's suggestion) about the fight against tyranny in the world. The work was premiered at London's Adelphi Theatre on March 19, 1944. In an incredibly timely way, the eponymous child is based on the life of an actual person, Herschel Grynspan, a 17-year-old Jew from Poland who was living in Paris. In 1938, he shot and killed a Nazi officer in retaliation against the Nazi authorities, who had deported his parents to concentration camps, which in turn led to the deadly and destructive pogrom now known as Kristallnacht. Musically, Tippett adapts the oratorio format perfected by J. S. Bach, with African American spirituals instead of Lutheran chorales and a contrapuntal interest in the fugue as a compositional process.
If you are in Washington, D.C., this weekend, you will have a rare chance to hear this work performed. On Sunday at 3 pm, in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Robert Shafer will lead the Washington Chorus, winner of a Grammy Award in 2000, through this remarkable work, with soloists soprano Laquita Mitchell, mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Bishop, tenor Don Frazure, and bass Gordon Hawkins. (Jens F. Laurson will be there for Ionarts.) Tickets are still available: $53 to $19. A free panel discussion, Reflections on Tippett, will be held before the concert, at 1:30 pm, in the Kennedy Center Atrium. For more information, see the preview by Tim Page, 'A Child of Our Time' Indeed (Washington Post, May 4).
See the review by Daniel Ginsberg (Washington Post, May 10).